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Gold tops $1,500 for first time

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NEW YORK — Gold prices topped a record $1,500 for the first time ever on Tuesday, shattering an important psychological barrier as investors seek out investments thought to be safe during times of upheaval.

Many investors see gold as the best place to park their money when there’s economic or policital uncertainty, and there has been plenty of that to go around.

The price spike also comes against the backdrop of market uncertainty that has sent investors looking for an alternative to the weak U.S. dollar. And gold has been the marquee beneficiary.

On Monday, it was a dour outlook on U.S. debt that sent gold prices higher.

Standard & Poor’s lowered its outlook for America’s long-term debt to “negative” from “stable,” based on uncertainty surrounding the nation’s fiscal problems.

That’s exactly the type of news that creates a flight to safe haven assets like gold.

Gold futures for June delivery hit an intraday record of $1,500.50 an ounce near midday, before retreating to settle at $1,495.10 an ounce — also a new record.

Gold_Briefcase.JPG

The price of gold has tracked steadily higher in recent months, as a cavalcade of unsettling world events created uncertainty in global markets.

Since the start of the year, investors have been forced to consider the implications of a Japanese tsunami, earthquake and nuclear disaster. That’s in addition to a spike in crude prices and a slew of revolts in the Middle East and North Africa.

Inflation — which gold is often used to hedge against — has been rising sharply in emerging economies and is becoming more of an issue in Europe.

Gold and silver keep shining. Thanks, S&P!

Carlos Sanchez, director of commodities management at New York-based CPM Group, said prices could go as high as $1,550 in the next couple weeks as investors focus on political gridlock in Washington.

The next major event for the gold market is the May deadline for the government to raise the debt ceiling, Sanchez said.

On Tuesday, silver prices were also on the rise. The understudy commodity settled at $43.75 an ounce — its highest level in three decades.

Of course, the records this week are not adjusted for inflation. Gold rose to $825.50 per ounce on Jan. 21, 1980, which is $2,211.65 in today’s dollars, according to the Minneapolis Fed Calculator.

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Obama, Bush and America’s Limits

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The release of George W. Bush’s memoirs and his successor’s ten-day trip to Asia complemented each other in a sobering way this last week. Bush’s book, “Decision Points,” brought back the folly of his early unilateralism. At the same time, President Barack Obama’s troubled Asia trip showed the limits of America’s influence even when it tries to work with others.

If there was one philosophy that dominated the Bush administration’s early years it was the notion that the best way to preserve American power was to exercise it unilaterally. The more constraints the U.S. voluntarily acquiesced to, the weaker it would become, and by bucking international institutions and even abrogating existing treaties, America would strengthen our position. The prime advocates of this approach–Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle and John Bolton–were effectively arguing that might made right.

Plenty of American foreign policy experts disagreed, usually less on moral grounds than on practical ones: by shaping international institutions to our liking while we had the power, the multilateralists argued, we would ensure they served our interests when we were less influential. But back then it was hazardous for politicians to make that argument. The Romans, the Turks and the British may have eventually faded (none of them, incidentally, thanks to too much international cooperation), but any suggestion that America might not be number one forever was taken as passive acceptance of that fate.

Now the idea that we won’t be number one forever is more widely credited. One of the most-discussed ads of this last election cycle showed a fully risen China looking back in 20 years and laughing at our decline. A post-midterms CBS poll showed 62% of the country thinks it’s headed on the wrong track, with only 29% saying it’s going in the right direction. The theme of American decline has been a touchstone for Obama’s opponents during his two years in office. That malaise, real or imagined, combined with the “shellacking” Democrats took in the midterms, created a difficult set of expectations into which Obama would be walking on his Asia trip. A few perceived wins would have been welcome for him; losses were likely to make him, and the U.S., look worse than they might in other circumstances.

Managing perceptions on international trips is the job of White House, State department and sometimes Treasury department aides; somehow all managed to fail the president at a bad moment. Typically, staffers are assigned to manage negotiations for months before a bilateral or multiparty summit to ensure there are no surprises once the President arrives. The aides are supposed to figure out what can be achieved, precooking the agreements and writing them up beforehand. Then with a little stagecraft, the principles show up, pretend to do some last minute negotiations (or not), and sign a document, often an irrelevant one, but nevertheless a “deliverable.”

Expectations were not so expertly handled on Obama’s Asia trip. In an attempt to boost worker protections, Obama had reopened negotiations on a free-trade treaty with South Korea that Bush had been unable to advance through Congress. Obama had sworn to seal the deal on the trip, which didn’t help, but when troubles arose in the run-up the administration did not telegraph them, leaving expectations of success higher than they should have been. Likewise, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner’s public effort to get a G-20 deal on trade imbalances was thrown together rapidly and largely in public, leaving Obama without a safety net and facing headlines like this in the New York Times when it fell short of the American target.

Bungled expectations are short-term setbacks, and the administration is quick to argue that it may still have success on the South Korean deal or G-20 trade imbalances. But the reasons behind Obama’s failure to nail them down on a presidential trip abroad are more concerning. Obama, on his flight back to the U.S. Sunday, tried to play down the larger implications. “Sometimes because we’ve gone through a tough couple of years, there’s a tendency for us to think that somehow Asia is moving and we’re forgotten,” Obama said, “And in fact, I think everywhere in Asia, what I heard from leaders and people is that we are still central, and they want us there.” That may be, but the American president’s influence has clearly diminished in recent years: a more powerful America likely would have succeeded in tightening the trade deal with South Korea and might have convinced the G-20 to agree to fixed targets for limiting trade imbalances.

These failures take on a particular light against the backdrop of Bush’s memoirs. It would have been wise to seal these deals when the U.S. had more power to persuade other countries to agree to them. The U.S. is still by far the most powerful country on earth and is likely to stay that way for a long time to come: the markets’ confidence in U.S. treasuries and America’s continued economic and military power make that clear. But America is going through a cyclical waning of influence. Perhaps the experience will bolster arguments for multilateralism in the future.

McGandhi? India Now Closer To McDonald’s Than To Mahatma

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Today, Gandhi’s nation is teeming with Hindu extremist groups and the state is armed to the teeth with latest weapons, while most Indians remain poor. Gandhi admirers forget that he was assassinated by the Indians themselves.

NEW YORK, U.S.-Modern India, which is moving towards “tighter’ military ties with the United States, is hardly the country envisioned by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, an advocate of nonviolence, The New York Times commented Sunday.

Obama can't find his idol Gandhi in today's McBrahmin India
Obama can’t find his idol Gandhi in today’s McBrahmin India

“Gandhi remains India’s patriarch, the founding father whose face is printed on the currency, but modern India is hardly a Gandhian nation, if it ever was one,” the newspaper said in a dispatch on President Barack Obama’s visit on Saturday to the Mani Bhavan Gandhi Museum in Mumbai, housed in a private residence where the Indian leader once stayed.

Gandhi is one of Obama’s political heroes, along with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, the American civil rights leader who fought for the rights of African-Americans, and Abraham Lincoln, a former US president who successfully led the country through its greatest internal crisis – the American Civil War, preserved the Union, and ended slavery.

“His (Gandhi’s) vision of a village-dominated economy was shunted aside during his lifetime as rural romanticism, and his call for a national ethos of personal austerity and nonviolence has proved antithetical to the goals of an aspiring economic and military power,” correspondent Jim Yardley wrote.

“If anything, India’s rise as a global power seems likely to distance it even further from Gandhi. India is inching toward a tighter military relationship with the United States, once distrusted as an imperialist power, even as the Americans are fighting a war in nearby Afghanistan,” the dispatch from Mumbai said.

“India also has an urbanizing consumer-driven economy and a growing middle class that indulges itself in cars, apartments and other goods. It is this economic progress that underpins India’s rising geopolitical clout and its attractiveness to the United States as a global partner.

“Gandhi is still revered here, and credited with shaping India’s political identity as a self-claimed and alleged tolerant, secular democracy. But he can sometimes seem to hover over modern India like a parent whose expectations are rarely met.”

“Mr. Obama, too, has experienced the clash of those lofty expectations with political realities. When he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, even as he was conducting two wars, he described himself as ‘living testimony to the moral force’ of the non-violent movement embodied by Dr King and Gandhi.”

“That paradox was on vivid display on Saturday when Mr. Obama arrived in Mumbai, an event carried live on national television, celebrating Gandhi’s legacy but also selling military transport planes and bringing along 200 American business leaders.

“India’s political establishment, if thrilled by the visit, is also withholding judgment. Mr. Obama was faulted in New Delhi for some early missteps, including his comment that China should play an active role in South Asia. His battering in the midterm elections has raised concerns about his political viability. And many Indian officials still hold a torch for former President George W Bush, who was popular for pushing through a landmark civilian nuclear deal between the two countries.

“Mr. Obama’s visit is intended to dispel those doubts and deepen a partnership rooted in shared democratic values. Since taking office, he has already met several times with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as well as with other delegations of Indian officials. On several occasions, he has cited his deep admiration for Gandhi, perhaps as evidence of his fondness for India.”

“The impression on the Indian side is every time you meet him, he talks about Gandhi,” Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Indian Express, was quoted as saying by the Times. He remarked that the repeated references to Gandhi struck some officials as “platitudinous.”

On Sunday, Obama will fly to New Delhi and, like Dr. King in 1959, visit the Rajghat, where Gandhi was cremated after his assassination in 1948.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a grandson of Gandhi, bemoaned the corruption and money contaminating Indian politics, but was quoted as saying that Gandhi’s spirit could still be found among the Indian civil society groups helping the poor and protecting the environment.

EU concerned over violence

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By: Kamran Yousaf

ISLAMABAD: The European Union (EU) has expressed grave concerns over the violence in Indian Kashmir, calling for an early resolution for the decades-old problem of poisoned relations between Pakistan and India.


Kashmiri people shout anti-India slogans during the funeral of a Kashmiri youth, Fayaz Ahmad, in Srinagar September 18, 2010.

“We are very concerned about the violence in Kashmir and we have conveyed this to India through diplomatic channels,” the EU Ambassador to Pakistan Jan De Kok told reporters here on Wednesday.

The EU, for the first time, publicly aired its concern since the beginning of anti-India demonstrations in June this year in Kashmir, which have already killed over 100 people.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Belgian Ambassador Hans Christian Kint, the EU envoy urged the two countries to find peaceful ways to resolve the Kashmir problem. However, he made it clear that the 27-nation bloc did not intend to mediate between Pakistan and India on Kashmir issue.

Pakistan also stepped up diplomatic efforts to put pressure on India.

On Tuesday Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi urged the United States to pressure India over Kashmir, saying that recent unrest showed that New Delhi, and not Islamabad, was to blame for trouble in the Himalayan territory.

He is likely to meet his Indian counterpart SM Krishna later this month in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session. Foreign office officials say the foreign minister will certainly take up the issue of renewed violence in Kashmir with his Indian counterpart.

Meanwhile, the Belgian Ambassador, whose country currently holds the EU Presidency, said Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani will attend the Asia-Europe summit to be held in Brussels on October 4 and 5. The summit will be attended by 48 heads of states and governments to discuss a host of issues confronting the two regions and the world at large, the ambassador added.

He said the meeting of the Friends of Democratic Pakistan will also take place in Brussels on October 14 and 15 to discuss the country’s needs in the wake of devastating floods.

‘Ground Zero mosque’ Imam thanks U.S. Jews for support

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By: Natasha Mozgovaya

ADL says plan to build mosque two blocks from Ground Zero is ‘counterproductive’; Jstreet collects over 10,000 signatures in support of plan.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the main force behind a plan to build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero in New York, thanked on Tuesday the American Jewish supporters who backed the proposed center amid a widespread contoversy.

“I express my heartfelt appreciation for the gestures of goodwill and support from our Jewish friends and colleagues”, he said. “Your support is a reflection of the great history of mutual cooperation and understanding that Jewish and Muslim civilizations have shared in the past, and remains a testament to the enduring success of our continuing dialogue and dedication to upholding religious freedom, tolerance and cooperation among us all as Americans.”


Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, executive director of the Cordoba Initiative

Tempers have been heating up in the New York City area over the plans by the American Society for Muslim Advancement and another Islamic group known as the Cordoba Initiative to build a $100 million, 13-story, Islamic cultural center and mosque just two blocks from Ground Zero.

Other provocative aspects include the fact that the majority of the money will allegedly come from the Saudis and the Ford Foundation, as well as the plan to inaugurate the new center on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

On Saturday, the Anti Defamation League condoned the plan, calling it “counterproductive.”

The Cordoba Initiative N.Y.C project, which became known as the “ground zero mosque”, stirred heated national debate in the US, which shifted since the last Wednesday to the Jewish organizations, following the statement on the controversial project.

The ADL stressed its commitment to the freedom of religion and rejection of bigotry – but, regarding the sensitivity of the site chosen for the new Islamic center, ADL defined the insistence of the Cordoba initiative to build the 13 storey Islamic community center, including the mosque, two blocks away from the 9/11 attacks site as “counterproductive,” adding that “proponents of the Islamic Center may have every right to build at this site, and may even have chosen the site to send a positive message about Islam”, said a statement.

Yet, the liberal Jews were quick to slash the ADL on its “hypocrisy” and the harm the latest decision caused to their declared mission. The pro-Israeli lobby JStreet collected over 10,000 signatures in support of the center that were delivered to the Landmarks Preservation Commission ahead of its vote on the Cordoba House (the commission unanimously voted Tuesday to deny landmark designation to the site).

“Appalled by the opposition to plans by American Muslims to build a community center in lower Manhattan modeled after Jewish Community Centers all over the country, J Street is collecting petitions in support of religious freedom and against anti-Muslim bigotry”, J street announced on their website.

Liberal “Tikkun” magazine editor Rabbi Michael Lerner called ADL’s decision a “shame,” adding that “ADL leader Abe Foxman presented the position of this organization that claims to oppose discrimination by reading a formal statement that seemed to be a perfect example of shooting and crying.”

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, the founder of The Shalom Center, supported the center along with about 30 rabbis and Jewish leaders, and asked the supporters to contact Foxman’s office to make him change his organization’s position.

AJC also declared Tuesday that the Cordoba Islamic Center “has a right to be built – but urged the founders of the center “to address concerns about funding and support for terrorism”.

The Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman called to impose some conditions on the center construction – basically, to stop the project “until there is further evaluation of its impact on the families and friends of victims of the 9-11 attacks, the intention of the center’s sponsors, and their sources of funding”.

Sharif el-Gamal, lead developer of the Park 51 project and member of the Jewish community center in upper Manhattan told Haaretz he did not expect the attention they have been receiving as he had been trying to buy the building for five years with this intention to build the center. “I’ve been looking for almost 10 years within this vicinity. It’s not easy to find real estate in New-York.”

El-Gamal, who has a Jewish sister-in-law, added that “the mosque will be a small component of a larger facility and it will be run as a separate non-profit. There will be a gym, a pool, restaurant. A spa, multi-use facilities, and also a September 11 memorial space to honor the victims.”

Critics of the mosque have raised the fact that Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf went on record as telling CNN, right after the 9/11 attacks, “U.S. policies were an accessory to the crime that happened. We (the U.S.) have been an accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. Osama bin Laden was made in the USA.”

Responding to the critics, Abraham Foxman told “Haaretz” that his statement was distorted by “all kinds of groups and people with political agendas.”

“ADL’s position is very clear and simple – it is about location and sensitivity, it is not about religious freedom and prejudice. When the Catholic Church wanted to build a prayer center near Auschwitz, we said no and called the world to confront it,” Foxman said.

“We were labeled anti Christians, until Pope John Paul said they can build their center one mile away. And it’s been there for the last 15 years, without any conflict,” he added.

India must stop restricting journalists in Kashmir

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Committee to Protect Journalists

New York, -National authorities in India must immediately address complaints from local journalists in Indian-controlled Kashmir who say they are being stopped from covering the government crackdown on protests that have killed 15 people.

In statements e-mailed to CPJ, the Kashmir Press Association, the Press Guild of Kashmir, the Kashmir Journalists Corps the Press Photographers, and the Video Journalists Association have complained that a government-imposed curfew has kept their staff from covering the situation.

In a message sent on Thursday, the Press Guild of Kashmir said the government has “virtually banned the local media but was extending all facilities to media persons coming from Delhi and other parts of India to cover the situation here.” The message said that even local journalists working for national and international media were having a hard time getting passes to allow them to move around during curfew hours, “while their counterparts who came from Delhi and other parts are roaming free to cover the events.”

The BBC reported that one of its BBC Urdu service journalists, Riaz Masroor, was stopped and beaten by police as he was going to collect his curfew pass on Friday. He suffered a fractured arm, the BBC said.

“It is illogical to restrict the movement of some journalists and not others,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “There is no justification for authorities to stop reporters from doing their job in Kashmir-whether they are locally based or are covering the story on assignment from another region.”

In a joint message today, the groups said the government’s claims that it had eased the restrictions were “eyewash” and that only some editors, but not field reporters, had been allowed to move during curfew hours. The groups said that many of the area’s more than 60 newspapers decided to suspend publication because of the small number of curfew passes issued to staff and continued attacks on media, a claim substantiated by the BBC and other reports.

Local and international media reports say thousands of police officers and troops from the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force have been deployed across the summer capital Srinagar city to enforce the curfew and restrict movement in and around the city. The Associated Press reported today that thousands of people defied a curfew across Indian-controlled Kashmir to pray in small mosques and in open fields, protesting India’s presence in the disputed area.

Journalists in Kashmir have long been abused. In January, one was shot and five others assaulted after a 22-hour battle between militants and local authorities in Srinagar, the summer capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. CPJ has reported on many more incidents over the years.

Afghan guards face US probe for ‘faking’ attacks

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NEW YORK, American investigators believe that many private Afghan security companies are using U.S. money to bribe the Taliban and faking attacks to make their services more sought after, The New York Times reported Monday. n a dispatch, the newspaper said reports that Afghan mercenaries, who escort American and other NATO convoys through the badlands, bribe Taliban insurgents to let them pass were followed by events last month that suggested “all-out collusion” with the insurgents.

The Times said after two of the biggest private security companies Watan Risk Management and Compass Security were banned from escorting NATO convoys on the highway between Kabul and Kandahar, a convoy came under attack the same day the ban was imposed.

Within two weeks, it added, with more than 1,000 trucks sitting stalled on the highway, the Afghan government granted Watan and Compass permission to resume. Watan’s president, Rashid Popal, strongly denied any suggestion that his men either colluded with insurgents or orchestrated attacks to emphasize the need for their services, according to the dispatch.

“But the episode, and others like it, has raised the suspicions of investigators here and in Washington, who are trying to track the tens of millions in taxpayer dollars paid to private security companies to move supplies to American and other NATO bases,” it said.

Although the investigation is not complete, the US officials suspect that at least some of these security companies many of which have ties to top Afghan officials are using American money to bribe the Taliban.

The officials suspect that the security companies may also engage in fake fighting to increase the sense of risk on the roads, and that they may sometimes stage attacks against competitors, it said. “We’re funding both sides of the war,” an unnamed NATO official in Kabul was quoted as saying.

The official said he believed millions of dollars were making their way to the Taliban. “The investigation is complicated by, among other things, the fact that some of the private security companies are owned by relatives of President Hamid Karzai and other senior Afghan officials,” the dispatch said.

Popal, for instance, is a cousin of Karzai, and Western officials say that Watan Risk Management’s largest shareholder is Karzai’s brother Qayum. “People think the insurgency and the government are separate, and that is just not always the case,” another NATO official in Kabul said. “What we are finding is that they are often bound up together.”